Grief and Guilt

“Every feeling fully felt leads to Love” — Grace of Mt. Shasta

I lost my Mother last week, which as everyone knows is a huge transition, and even though I know it was her time, I still feel grief arising, in waves that sometimes build and sometimes ebb quietly away.  Occasionally the grief has a quality of extreme pain, other times it is soft and warm.  I can still hear my Mom’s voice, speaking my name and wonder how long that will last.  I saved her final voice message to me on my computer, but alas that computer died and with it – the message… letting go is the message, while remembering to give thanks for her long life, and for the time we had to mend our fences and open our hearts to each other.

What is the pain of grief?  My experience is that when grief is allowed, invited, even welcomed that it is a portal to exaltation, to the rainbow realm, the living grace of this world.  I have experienced this and so speak from there.  But why then is grief sometimes so crippling and painful?  The difference, I believe, is guilt.  When guilt sneakily attaches itself to grief, huge pain erupts.  Thoughts such as   “If only I had….” or “why didn’t I…” begin to surface and with them comes enormous pain.

I once read a really interesting book – Power vs. Force and the statement made in that book is that our feelings have vibrations.  Guilt and shame, say the author, are the lowest vibration.  Lower vibrations (below love) are uncomfortable and make us sick, they bring “dis-ease”.  That means that feelings of guilt are necessarily unhealthy for us and our close ones.  How do we let them go?  Ahhhhh, this is the big work!

I love the word “awareness” and perhaps I overuse it these days – but it does seem that awareness is the first step towards change.  After all it is impossible to make a conscious change from an unconscious place.  That seems obvious but is truly worth consideration, since taking the first big step of awareness often brings pain.  In order to face our uncomfortable habits, thought patterns and neuroses takes courage.  Heaps of courage.  I for one have a hard time pricking my finger for a little blood sample, why should I want to poke at the demons of my unconscious wounding?  Well, awakening the sleeping demons means we will need to tussle with them but let’s for one moment feel confident that we have tools to overcome the challenges of our inner lives.  I know we do!  You got this!  Let’s do it!

Ok so the guilt has been brought to the surface.  What is the way to shift and change unconscious patterns?  It is remarkably similar to the way we change our bodies – it takes repetition.  But unlike building physical strength with emotional re-programming it takes repetition with emotion.  Finding the old thoughts and judgements that have created the guilt with us is a huge step, and the painful emotions that are stirred by those thoughts can shift in an instant with new more supportive thoughts.  Feeling deeply into the new thoughts creates a new way to respond and the old patterns can drop away, recycle, compost and reappear as grace.

I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again – this is no easy task.  I have noticed that when I need to face something uncomfortable in myself that all the little things undone around the house immediately becoming compelling – the vacuum cleaner beckons, the deep cleaning of the closet must happen – on and on the procrastination continues.  It takes huge devotion to make space to sit and contemplate.  Right now, in the middle of the Shelter at Home I hope that you have found the time and space for your inner life.  The world right now is a huge metaphor for what is needed in our inner lives…just be with yourself.   Begin Within… Again…

 

Learn to Discern, Choose Love

“Love calls – everywhere and always.
We’re sky bound.
Are you coming?”

–Rumi

Learning to choose Love, is to me the most important aspect of life.  It’s an ongoing process – a spiral dance, a vision quest a grand education. And in the choosing lies the question – what exactly is this thing called love?  The English language is to me, woefully inadequate to describe Love.  Other languages have many words because there are many meanings and faces of love in its expression.  For now I’m speaking of the universal love that is the compelling energy of this world.  Romance can be delightful, but couple-love is by nature limited (only two allowed) and love with a capital “L” is unlimited, limitless and universal.

It’s not actually a choice, to love.  It is innate in us and to love we must retrain our minds to follow that track,  using our heart’s truest wisdom to guide the way.  We all have a built in tool for finding our way – it’s called our intuition.  Some call it “gut feeling”.  Our minds and deep conditioning can get in the way of this deep inner knowing and there are some big obstacles to deeper listening, but this capability exists in everyone, I’m sure of that.

During these days of the corona virus as the world has quieted, our activities are limited and we are essentially confined it is more important than ever to focus on deep inner listening. What is the feeling when we know ourselves to be acting in opposition to our own innate wisdom?  Where is it felt in the body? Noticing some physical discomfort is often a great starting point for finding the way.

Choosing love doesn’t mean allowing others to mistreat or take advantage of us.  In the face of anger or abuse there is an important need for self care.  Most times the best solution is to remove ourselves from harm’s way, verbal or physical.  The most successful strategy I have found is to use a kind of energetic aikido and relax into the truth that nothing other people say or do is really about us.  It is a reflection of their own inner state, their judgements which they believe to be true, and their conditioning and trauma.  Choosing love in intense situations can mean quietly exiting the arena of conflict, at best leaving a feeling of compassion behind.

Since we’re talking about compassion, it’s another term that calls for clarification.  Pema Chodron, a Buddhist wise woman calls certain behaviors “idiot compassion”.  She explains it this way:  “It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.”  This one is seen a lot with small children, whose parents give in to their tears and tantrums.  This doesn’t work out so well in the long run, as many adults attempt this same kind of emotional manipulation in adulthood- and it doesn’t usually work out very well on either side.

True compassion is felt in the heart.  It is warm and fuzzy and can also hold tinges of sadness for another’s suffering.  We can’t truly assuage the suffering of others, but by holding them in compassion and love we can lend emotional support which is in many ways one of the most valuable offerings we can make to each other.  These days we may be limited to reaching out by phone, and as hugging has become dangerous most of our connections are virtual, and yet that is opening a door to creativity.  How do I express my love in new ways…please let me know what you have discovered!

Circling back to the best way to be a helper in this time of confinement due to Covid-19, having compassion for ourselves and others, putting the others who are sharing our homes is at the top of the list.  Learning to deepen the ways we express our love to each other is essential and important.  Taking responsibility for our own hurtful behaviors can work wonders on our relationships and is truly the higher path.   Every time we notice ourselves veer off the path of love and compassion, healing happens and we can stand up, brush off and re-enter the realms of love and joy.  Welcome home!

 

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Exiting the Chrysalis

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I have spent countless hours observing caterpillars, chrysalis and butterflies.  I have witnessed the challenge, the risk and the glory of metamorphosis.  Each transition is difficult – when the caterpillar hatches it is fine food for birds, lizards and other critters.  As they grow into adulthood, the caterpillar needs to find a safe place to cocoon.  This is not an easy search for such a small being, and there are many hazards on the way.  Once again, they can be eaten by birds, or other creatures, crushed by man or animal or run out of time in their quest.

When the caterpillar finds a suitable place (or unsuitable, time will tell, a Monarch caterpillar once made its chrysalis on a hinge and almost made it until an unwitting guest closed the door… sadly…) I digress – It attaches to the wall.  It needs to hold on in order to let go. That always tickles me to say, paradoxes are my thing!  Then comes the intense part as the caterpillar’s body seems to dissolve.  Sometimes they just don’t make it through this process, it can’t be easy.  If they do make it then they become another kind of being.  A being stopped in time.  Some of them have little faces, others look like dangly jade earrings but all of them are specialized and precise.  For in some period of time, from a couple of weeks to a couple of years, the butterfly will emerge.

The monarch butterfly emerging is a miracle of nature I’m overawed to have witnessed many times.  As the jade green chrysalis approaches hatching time, the skin begins to become transparent and the butterfly inside is seen as a kind of origami puzzle.  When it breaks out of the cocoon it is a fragile being.  It takes time to dry off its wings and is very vulnerable for even a gust of wind can knock it to the ground and its wings will deform.  They can’t take off yet so are at the mercy of any nearby bird.  And yet, many of them flutter happily (I project) into the sunlight.  Butterflies can’t fly in cold weather so they are always beacons of springtime.

Once they are aloft they have two activities to fulfill.  They sip nectar and aid in pollination as a side effect.  They make love and procreate.  I once watched a monarch butterfly couple do their coupling for almost an hour.  When it was complete, he (I imagine, perhaps wrongly) lifted her up and flew her up to a branch where they rested for a while.  It’s a short life, but valuable for sure.

Why am I rambling about this right now?  We’re quarantined to be safe from the corona virus, we’re watching our world come to a standstill.  We are cocooned.  It is a challenge perhaps the biggest challenge of our short lives.  Life, as we imagined it was, has ceased to be.  We have let go, collectively and individually.  We have let go of activity for the most part.  We’re not allowed to gather or recreate together.  It’s very strange.  It seems unnatural.  For those of us who have meditated and vision quested it is not difficult but most people have spent their lives avoiding being alone and quiet and listening to their inner voice.

What’s next?  I imagine us, like the butterfly, emerging slowly from this cocoon.  Taking it one tiny step at a time, into the sunlight.  Everything has shifted and I hope that we can collectively make more loving choices as we recreate our systems to better serve humanity and our ecosystem.  There are some important things each of us can do to contribute and “be the change”.  We can get comfortable with ourselves, honest and true and be clear on what we stand for.  I stand for love, for caring, for holding each other up with nobody left behind.  I think a basic universal income and guaranteed housing would be a fantastic place to start.  All the money spent on the war machine can be turned to providing that and health care, education and funding for the arts.  Animal agriculture should be ended and hemp and cannabis farms allowed to prosper and provide.

The sky is the limit!  What kind of world do you want to live in?  Keep marinating in your cocoon and we can discover that together….I love you!

Understanding is Peace

“Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood”  lyrics from Love Potion #9

Being misunderstood creates a complicated series of emotions.  Frustration, confusion, anger, sadness cascade around inside a confused mind.  How can I be more clear?  How can I express myself in a way that can be understood?  Understanding is peace – recognition feels so good, and when a communication is received through a clear filter, hearts open, joy arises.  Layer the filter with insecurities, resentments and bad memories and misunderstandings can build to a crescendo of confusion.

“Why did you say that?  Why didn’t you say it a different way?  Why Why Why?”  Many abusive conversations start this way – it has just occurred to me that those conversations in which we are told (usually angrily) that we should have done something differently are in fact abusive – since none of us can change the past.  What would kindness say?  I’m delving into some other ways to communicate that will be more effective, more kind and way more understanding.

There are many systems who aim is to remedy this kind of situation.  Most of them would recommend staying away from the written word, as inflection calls for assumption, which is the beginning of a slippery slope and a downward slide.  I love the book “The Four Agreements” which proposes a simple set of rules for staying on the positive side of discussions and conversations.

“Don’t Make Assumptions” is a rule that can often clarify misunderstandings.  And oh how assumptions can multiply in a texting barrage.  Oh dear!  What is the remedy?  To ask for clarity, to be open to receiving it instead of clinging to the original assumption, which has come from a clouded place – often dark.  If we are going to make assumptions, it might be best to assume loving motives – albeit this can cause romantic confusion from time to time.  Once again, just simple clarity can alleviate many kerfluffles.  Simplicity rocks!

“Don’t take anything personally” – is another “rule” that is often forgotten.  All of us have a unique perspective, a personal view.  We can sometimes see clearly, but vision is once again clouded by our personalities and histories.  Finding a way through to an open hearted perspective does bring us to the Promised Land of love.  Bringing this teaching close to heart has helped me many times.  “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” said Anais Nin, in a fit of wisdom.  “you, you, you” says the ego – if only “you” did something differently, I would be able to love you.  Sigh, squirm, deflect, resist….

These two suggestions come up often for me.  They can effectively guide me back to a place of understanding that includes seeing myself and others with compassion and love.  If I still can’t get there I can turn to NVC or Non-violent communication.  That system is based on the idea that criticizing and judging others (if only you had ________, I would be ok) is violence.  It certainly isn’t the path of love or kindness.  I haven’t met a person yet who could turn back the clock and re-do the past.  It is a superpower many of us may wish for from time to time, but what we have is this moment, this opportunity, this love.  NVC says to speak of feelings, instead of our judgements of other.  “When you did X, I felt Y” as opposed to “why didn’t you do that differently, what’s wrong with you, now I’m mad”… And this is easier than it sounds, most of us have underdeveloped vocabularies for feelings due to centuries of emotional repression and interrelations that are based on anger and rage.  NVC includes a handy reference guide to feelings – and a reminder that when we say “I feel like you are ________” is not a feeling, but a judgement.

I recently learned that when we say “I feel” it is most likely to express genuine emotion.  When we say “I feel like” then the contemplation has returned to the mental realms of criticism and closed hearted judgements.   These are fine points, I know as we stumble along on the day to day experience of living life as a learning process heading towards love.  And just as an unfinished painting doesn’t include the finer details, an unfinished comprehension is the same.  Filling in the details, being aware of the finer points, paints a different picture.  Be an artist!  Make your life be your masterpiece of understanding.  It’s more fun that way, I am sure of it!

and then, when all else fails – there is a beautiful system called Ho’o’ponopono which goes something like this:

I’m sorry, I love you, please forgive me, thank you….

repeat, repeat, repeat until you get it right….

Kindness and Judgement

I know this: I can gently pet a kitten, smell a rose and embrace a favorite person with warmth in my heart.  It feels so good, a gentle purr, a sweet fragrance and that special something that communicates love between friends who hug – and yet – on a daily basis is there more to understanding what passes as kindness?

Ordinary kindnesses – epitomized by the young person helping an elder cross the street, or carrying a heavy bag for a tottering shopper, are encouraged in a universal attitude of understanding.  And yet, how can our kindnesses extend into every nook and cranny, every moment, every breath?  What is holding us back from letting the sweetness inside be expressed?

Sometimes a kindness requires a deeper vulnerability- a reaching in to a dusty heartspace, a symbolic inner cave of old toys, cherished but unused.  Imagine pulling them out, dusting them off and putting them to work to create a better day, a better connection and higher love.  What happens when I am a deliberate creator of kindness? A new brightness comes, a sweeter joy erupts together with more laughter.

I am surrounded by animal companions – they delight at a glance and explode into playfulness with the least provocation.  How can I emulate this – embody this – exult into this primal joy more and more often?  Is it adulthood that holds me back or a concept of maturity?  Is laughter often inappropriate?  I aim to always remember to see life as a playground, rather than an industrial assembly line of productivity and accomplishment.

A recent visitor showed extreme disapproval at my lifestyle.  Too many dogs, they said, too many books, bad feng shui.  My joy was temporarily dampened.  Am I getting it wrong about how to live and be myself?  Humpf!  I retrieved my eco-spray bottle of “Grouch-Be-Gone” and applied it liberally to all the surfaces in my sanctuary.  As the mood lightened I remembered that I love to play – to dance and to sing.  In tune or out, music is my delight, my happiness a true love.  Cultivating inner joy and playfulness will definitely bubble over and expand out into the world as kindness, contagious positivity and happiness…oh yes and I really love my dogs, my books and my eccentric furniture.  Having the confidence to make the choices my true heart is calling for, each day in each moment, large or small, has had the extraordinary effect of transforming my life into a living altar to joy and love.

It may not be completely authentic to live life as a musical production – but some of it can be – in fact the more of life that is filled with song (and dance and play) the happier we can be.  Remembering to skip and hop instead of plod is the work of my inner child.  The distilled essence of playfulness is my aim – in each moment as much as possible.

Joy is contagious – !

 

 

 

Love and Devastation

When a love relationship turns to hate, or dislike or disharmony – what is that about?  This is one of the most troubling, painful and challenging situations in life for me.  I imagine it is the same for others.  One of my spiritual mentors said it this way: “In order to love you must be willing to face the devastation”.  A Buddhist friend and I were pondering this turn of events and he relates it to the idea that in the light there is also the dark, in happiness there is sorrow – it is the yin/yang truth of life.  Absolute duality.  In the emotional realm it makes sense that once again the idea of attachment and aversion is where the suffering lies.  Attached to “good” feelings and afraid of “bad” feelings – there is also an unconscious awareness of the pain embedded in the pleasure.  True freedom is acceptance, but that is not a Pollyanna-ish idea.  Acceptance includes everything.  Leave anything out and it is not acceptance.

These spiritual “basics” are bandied about frequently in my world.  The basics don’t change but my relationship to them and understanding of them does continue to deepen and expand.  Contemplation and experience, rinse and repeat.  The cycle becomes a spiral…unwinding towards understanding, and then acceptance.

There was a time when I mourned my lover’s death while he was alive.  Deeply entwined in a long term relationship I feared its ending – and sometimes felt I should leave before he left me or died.  I imagine this is not an uncommon way to react to intimacy and love.  If I push it away then i can save myself from the pain of loss.  Well – that is a losing game!  It is not win-win, it is lose-lose.  Perhaps it is easier to avoid intimacy and love altogether, and so avoid the pain of loss.  Pondering that it is easy to see that life then collapses into pain, loneliness and depression.  There is no the easy way out.

So, what is the way out?  My experience is this – the way out is through.  Through the pain, through the difficult emotions, through the grief and through the loss.  Remembering all those I have loved and lost, the grief remains but the love, wow, the love was so good.  My life was so enriched by the loss, by the love and continues to be enriched with the memories.  Happy, happy memories.  Ironically it seems that happiness is easier to remember than pain.  Is that true for you, too?

Emotions are tricky turf.  Our coping mechanisms and addictions seem to be born from the desire and need to suppress what we are afraid to feel.  The British culture was molded from the idea of “stiff upper lip” which is shorthand for “show no emotion”.  What happens to feelings that want to be felt but aren’t?  Where do they go?  One theory is that they turn into themselves and cause disease (dis-ease, duh). I see the possibility here.  The psychiatric diseases are clearly seen as suppressed emotion and energy.

How, then do we feel emotions?  It takes so much courage to let the painful feelings be felt and pass through.  The more deeply and completely they are felt, the more quickly they pass through, at least that’s true for me.  I consider this process to be the sacred fire, as the allowing of intense emotion seems to burn something – and there is a purification that completes when a feeling is fully felt.

A wise person once said to me “Every feeling fully felt leads to love”.  I have experienced the truth of this – the complete and utter bliss that lies on the other side of grief.  The Tibetan Buddhists belief is that we have the possibility to attain a “rainbow body” – and the process of burning off all that is not true, all this is not love, leads to this illumined state.  Bring it on!

 

Learning from Nature

“Nature is my religion”

To me, this means – that the natural world, the wilderness is a divinely beautiful system, in harmony with itself – self-regulating and wondrously complex, intricate and sacred.  It is unfathomable, well-organized and astoundingly beautiful at both the micro and the macro levels.

Nature operates more on a rhythm than a calendar.  Her processes of change are interrelated and subtle.  How do two trees growing side by side interact?  They obviously intertwine their roots, and often give space to each other’s branches and accommodate one another.  Until, at some point perhaps one has an advantage and outgrows the other, one grows and one withers.  It’s a chance of fate, of birth and species.  A Douglas fir will eventually overshadow an oak, transforming the forest from hardwoods to softwoods, from deciduous to coniferous.

The Sufis says that the leaves of a tree as the pages of the Bible.  I have taken  time to meditate with trees, and with their leaves.  These otherworldly beings begin their lives as a seed, and absorb, transmute and alchemize themselves into trees, using sunlight, water, air and food.  Somehow they know to do this, it happens, and to intimately witness that miracle is a true spiritual awakening.

We share this planet with so many other kinds of beings.  The sheer variety is more than my human brain can possibly assimilate.  Like a hummingbird, I witness the activities in my garden by casting my awareness around from flower, to leaf, to shaft of sunlight to critter movement to stillness.  Tonight I shared a moment with a raccoon, yesterday a small spider and before that a family of quail who live in the blackberry thicket right off the driveway. I know that the animals and many of the beings that live on this land with me for the past 20 years watch me, know my habits and accommodate themselves to that.  At one time there were three crows who watched as I fed the outside cat (she won’t come in even though she’s welcome) and patiently waited until the cat finished eating to empty the dish.  These days a fox does that job…

After a time spent in nature as my mind returns to its smaller, more human concerns it has become much easier to cast aside those pesky self-limiting and self-judging thoughts. A new perspective has been gained that is more open – more kind, more accepting.  To find myself being a part of the natural world is thrilling, and at the same time since it is actually the natural state, it also feels, well, natural.  Simultaneously relaxed and alert.  Refreshed and reinvigorated.  Renewed and Restored.

One of the purposes of meditation for me is to slow down enough to be able to perceive the subtle activities of the natural world.  To watch the chrysalis open, to catch a closeup view of a butterfly.  Have you ever looked closely at a butterfly’s face?  They are heartbreakingly adorable.  They are little fairy creatures, some of them have polka dotted bodies, other have little multicolored striped antennae… Dragonflies have great big smiles – Bumblebees are all different, some tiny and mostly black, others plump and more yellow.  Why?  This I cannot answer!

What else is to be learned from this holy book?  Patience, allowing, trusting – as the natural world’s processes are so well organized and effective, then is it possible that we, too are so well organized?  That we have an innate program that will choose our place, will allow us to be created into what we really are?  The best healers I know guide the body to listen to its own innate wisdom, for the blueprint for health is already contained within each of us.  That includes the blueprint for physical, emotional and spiritual health.  It all comes back to learning how to listen, deeply, honestly, truly listen.